by Lisa Profera, MD
Imagine what your home would look like if it was never cleaned. Over the course of a lifetime, our bodies accumulate toxins just like dust builds up on your furniture. Got brain fog? Entangled proteins and cellular waste products can accumulate around your neurons like “cobwebs” gathering in your brain. Without proper attention, the consequences can be debilitating. Detoxing is not only “trendy,” it is critical to our long-term health.
Unfortunately, toxins are ubiquitous. No matter how clean your lifestyle and diet are, there are some exposures that are unavoidable. I was recently on an international flight from Hawaii to Tahiti. When the plane landed, the entire cabin was sprayed with a pesticide to reduce the spread of the dreaded coconut mite from the Hawaiian Islands to French Polynesia as mandated by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). Although we were assured that the unnamed chemical being sprayed on us was considered safe by the World Health Organization, I remained skeptical. I made a personal tent out of the thin blanket provided by the airlines and remained under it for the duration of the 10-minute treatment.
The point I’m trying to make is that our bodies are dealing with chemicals known and unknown on a regular basis. Our liver and kidneys are doing their best to process and filter out the unwanted clutter in our “living room,” but sometimes they need some assistance. Toxins can stress our systems and accumulate over time. Many of them can build up in our fat. This might not sound so bad, but remember, 60% of our brain is fat. Every cell membrane in our body is made of fats called phospholipids. Toxins can build up anywhere. Cleaning out our systems periodically can avert disaster.
The conveniences of modern-day life have their drawbacks. We are exposed to many more chemicals than our grandparents were. Exogenous toxins are found not only in the air we breathe, the food and water we consume, but also in whatever comes in contact with our skin. The list is staggering; ranging from preservatives and pesticides in our food to petroleum-based products and other pollutants. It is estimated that there are over 84,000 chemicals circulating in US commerce today, not to mention those declared and undeclared from products made in other countries. Exogenous toxins have not only increased in number, but they have also increased in diversity. They affect all socioeconomic groups. We all carry hundreds of potentially harmful chemicals in our bodies at this very moment.
Whether you decide to detox your body once a quarter or once a year is up to you. Done correctly, detoxing can leave you with a wonderful feeling of well-being. Done incorrectly, it may make you feel worse: depleted, sluggish or sick. These are some of the same signs our bodies give us when we are experiencing chemical overload. Signs and symptoms of toxic stress can include obesity or inability to lose weight, inflammation and autoimmune diseases, feelings of fatigue and low energy, slowed cognition and impaired memory, mood swings, and hormone imbalances, skin rashes and allergies, nausea and poor digestion, elevated blood pressure and decreased immune function. If you are experiencing any of these, it might be helpful to make a list prior to the initiation of a detox program and see how that changes after it is completed.
If you have never detoxed before, you may consider consulting with a practitioner who is well-versed in this process. It is important to establish a good foundation of nutrition along with core support including the vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, essential fatty acids, and enzymes that our bodies need to carry out a proper cleanse. For some, a more gentle initial cleanse may be in order. If your first experience is bad, you may never want to do it again. The purpose of a detox is to de-load your system, not to stress it out even more than it already is. As I have mentioned in previous articles, supporting our digestive and immune systems with high-quality prebiotics and probiotics is a must.
The liver is the workhorse of detoxification. A healthy gastrointestinal tract is key to success. Our kidneys, skin, and lungs also serve to filter and rid our bodies from unwanted chemicals as well. There are different phases of a proper detoxification plan. The length of a detox program is a personal choice and can vary from 10-30 days. Some cleansing programs may eliminate certain food groups and then gradually reintroduce them. This is especially helpful for those who are trying to identify specific food allergies, sensitivities, or intolerances. For others, it may not be necessary and a regular diet can be consumed. Obviously, trying to eat as clean as possible and avoiding processed foods will serve you well.
Without getting into detailed biochemistry, the phases of detoxification include the enzymatic breakdown and processing of harmful chemicals harbored in our systems. Water-soluble toxins are mostly handled by the kidneys and eliminated through the urine. A small percentage of water-soluble substances are eliminated through our skin in the form of sweat. Some fat-soluble toxins can be converted into a water-soluble form through a process known as conjugation. Once conjugated by the liver, they can be transported to and eliminated by the kidneys. Residual fat-soluble compounds are primarily eliminated through the colon. Some are released through the oil ducts in our skin. With proper support (nutrients, enzymes, and cofactors), these biochemical processes effectively cleanse our systems and support health on a cellular level.
A good detoxification regimen can have a powerful impact on your health without causing untoward side effects. When your body is clean on the inside, you will sparkle and shine on the outside, just like your freshly-cleaned home. Spring-clean your body and optimize your health!